John Brown’s Intestacy or, Singing the Texas Probate Code

I’m reposting part of a post that appeared here last year. I’m reposting it because I want to.  I realize it’s tedious to read, and many visitors will not read it. That’s okay. It was fun to write, and I still like it. And I think if more laws were set to music, the world would be a happier place. Bad laws might disappear completely. 


When I was in paralegal school back in Aught Three, I wrote a mnemonic. It explains intestate succession–who gets what when a Texan dies without leaving a valid will–as laid out in the Texas Probate Code. One of our instructors had warned my class that students usually considered probate the most difficult part of the course, so I thought a little extra help when exam time rolled around might be in order.

Composing the memory aid took the better part of an afternoon. It required that I not only observe restrictions imposed by rime and meter, but that I also strictly adhere to the provisions of the Code. There was no wiggle room. It had to be correct.

At the end of the day, I was pleased. Aside from a couple of rhythmic aberrations, all the lines scanned, the rime scheme was satisfactory, and the targeted provisions of the Code  were adequately covered.

It was a pretty good song.

As a mnemonic, however, it lacked a lot. It was long and complicated. I could have completed an entire exam in the time it took me to sing (silently) down to the second chorus.

It was easier to just learn the Code.

I posted this little flash of creativity on the class bulletin board. My old biology classmates would have read it and applauded. My paralegal classmates looked at me funny.

But funny looks don’t bother me. I spent years teaching in the public schools. I’m used to funny looks.

So at the risk of getting several more, I present a bit of law in verse.

Disclaimer: The content of the following composition was accurate as of November 1, 2003. The song does not reflect changes in the law since that date. Neither does it represent a legal opinion, nor is it intended to offer counsel or advice. Its appearance on this blog does not constitute practicing law without a license.


“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” melody beginning Created by Hyacinth using Sibelius and Paint. Source: van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0193161214. Category:Music images sl:Slika:Battle Hymn of the Republic beginning.PNG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Brown’s Intestacy

By Kathy Waller

(To be sung to the tune of John Brown’s Body, aka The Battle Hymn of the Republic).


John Brown died and went to heaven but forgot to make a will.
His intestate succession now the Probate Code will tell.
Was he married, was he single, do his kids sit ‘round the ingle?
Had he common prop. or sep.?

Glory, glory, Texas Probate!
Separate property Section 38!
Common property Section 45!
Make a will while you’re alive!


If John’s married and he leaves a wife, no kids, or kids they share,
Then 45(a)1 leaves wife all common prop. that’s there.
But if he has an extra kid, wife ends up with just half
And the kids share all the rest.

Glory, glory 45(b)!
Don’t omit Section 43!
By the cap or by the stirpes,
Wife shares it with the kids!


For separate prop., if he’s no wife, it goes to kids or grands.
If none of those, John’s parents halve the personal and lands.
If only mom or pop lives, the surviving one takes half.
John’s siblings share the rest.

Glory! Both John’s folks are deceased–
All his sibs will share the increase,
And if no siblings, 38(a)4 means
They’ll need a family tree.


If John has separate prop. and leaves a wife and kids or grands,
38(b)1 gives wife one-third of personal prop. at hand,
And a one-third interest just for life in houses and in lands.
Descendants take the rest.

Glory, glory 38(b)1!
It’s one-third/two-thirds division!
But if John leaves a wife but no kids,
Section 38(b)2 applies!

V. – VII.

John’s wife gets all his personal prop. and half the real estate.
The other half of real estate goes back to 38—
38(a), to be exact, and up the family tree,
Unless his gene pool’s defunct.

For if John Brown was an only child with parents absentee,
No brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, or cousins on the tree,
No grandparents or great-grandparents to grab a moiety,
His wife will get it all.

BUT if John Brown leaves this life with naught a soul to say, “Amen,”
The Probate Code’s escheat will neatly tie up all the ends:
The Lone Star State will step right up to be John’s kith and kin,
And Texas takes it all!

Glory, glory Texas Probate!
Slicing up poor John Brown’s estate!
Avoid the Legislature’s dictate:
Make a will while you’re alive!

12 thoughts on “John Brown’s Intestacy or, Singing the Texas Probate Code

  1. I just sang the whole thing. And now I feel like making a will. I have one, but it’s very old, so I think I need a new one. What do you think of using online forms? I traded lawyer’s fees for babysitting for the last one.


    1. I’m no longer allowed to have an opinion. I made myself a will–very basic, no big deal–while I was in school but chickened out and decided I’d better talk to a lawyer. Are the online forms specific to each state?


        1. Make sure the source is reliable, of course. Since taking that course, I don’t trust anything or anyone. It was like a big dose of paranoia with a certificate at the end. My boss said in the law there are no mistakes that can’t be fixed, but I think he said that just to get me down from the ceiling, where I spent a lot of time.


      1. 😀 No, that will be your novel, a copy of which, I give you advance notice, I shall insist on being signed so I can swank about with it. I do hope it’s going well: it’s not just politeness which makes me eager to read the finished novel. Your writing can be quite magical, and is about a place and people I only experience through books.


        1. That’s so nice. I want to preserve a place and time that were so special and, I think, singular, but I’ve begun to doubt the form I’ve chosen. But…no one promised it would be easy.


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